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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: December 2009

2 - Carolingian history books


The history of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus was written in the first century AD. Its earliest surviving manuscript, Paris, BnF lat. 5716, was written in the Carolingian period for Count Conrad by the scribe Haimo in the Loire region in the second half of the ninth century. How may we account for this?

Quintus Curtius Rufus is not an orthodox member of the Roman historiographical canon in the sense that he does not deal with contemporary Roman themes. Certainly his History of Alexander is sensational and emotional; it has much of the exotic and the remote in its narrative, and good character sketches. There are vivid depictions of the characteristics of different peoples – effeminate Persians, intelligent Scythians, volatile Egyptians, the Greeks, who are ‘political trimmers by temperament’, ‘time-serving Cretans’, the Sicilians' penchant for flattery and the fickleness of the mob. The speeches abound and the morals are pointed. Accounting for its attractions, therefore, is perhaps not difficult, through it risks being a subjective exercise in relation to modern tastes. Nevertheless, other ninth-century copies of Quintus Curtius Rufus of different origin besides that of Count Conrad's book do indeed suggest some popularity of the text. Further, the text tradition these various manuscripts represent is very diverse. It might be natural to postulate a mutilated archetype as the original from which the others stemmed, for all texts omit Books 1–2, the end of Book 5 and the beginning of Book 6. The other copies, however, are sufficiently different from the Conrad manuscript to indicate the possibility of a number of independent exemplars and varying milieux of production in the Carolingian period and later in the middle ages.

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